Ventilation conversation gains traction with OzSAGE safe indoor air advice

by Ben Ice
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man wearing face mask

The goal for OzSAGE, a new network of experts, is to tie together all the work being done on COVID-19, so Australia may learn to live with occasional outbreaks – not widespread disease.

Ventilation is one of the two keys to OzSAGE’s ‘exit strategy’, along with vaccination. Many of its experts include those with backgrounds in safe air, public health, occupational hygiene, engineering and the built environment.

The network says there are short-term, urgent needs for better air management in schools and businesses, and long-term urban design issues that need to be addressed for life in a post-COVID-19 world.

“Australia has leading world experts on ventilation and shared air,” says the network’s website. “There is a substantial body of scientific evidence on ventilation and the risk of airborne infections, generated by engineering, science and medical researchers, but much of it is not known to medical experts.”

Addressing this disconnection, and others like it, is a primary aim of this large, independent body made up of 11 executives and more than 50 members. “COVID-19 challenges us because it cuts across every silo of expertise – virology to sociology, ICU to IT,” says executive member Dr Greg Kelly in an announcement tweet on Twitter. Kelly went on to reiterate this drive to connect people:

On 6 September, OzSAGE issued advice on safe indoor air and ventilation: ‘Beware the air you share’. “Respiratory aerosols from breathing and speaking accumulate in indoor spaces, much like cigarette smoke but invisible. Risk of infection increases risk over time. Spending 10 minutes indoors in a poorly ventilated room is less of a risk than spending hours in there – so homes and workplaces are high risk.

“Poor ventilation (stagnant air) in public buildings, apartment blocks, workplace environments, schools, hospitals and aged care homes contribute to viral spread. Good ventilation is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection, in concert with other mitigations, including density limits, the use of PPE (personal protective equipment) and the use of air purifying devices.”

Solutions to manage the risks of indoor congregation and poor ventilation offered by OzSAGE include:

  • Test: A CO₂ meter to check and monitor ventilation in the space is an affordable and accessible solution.
  • Remediate: Improve ventilation, CO₂ should be below 800 ppm (parts per million) – outdoor air is typically between 400 and 415 ppm.
  • Ameliorate: If immediate ventilation improvements are impractical, use air purifying devices. At a minimum, these should have a HEPA filter and the size of the unit should be matched to the space.

The National Plan endorsed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state and territory leaders sets vaccination targets for those aged 16 and above and the eased restrictions that should follow, “But it doesn’t talk much about the other things we will have to do,” says UNSW Professor of Economics Richard Holden, another OzSAGE executive member, in an introductory article in The Conversation.

Photo by Tai’s Captures on Unsplash

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